Tag Archives: digital

Power Ball Ads: Hope Vs. Reality?

snapshot taken on a downtown Q train on 3/27/12

If you watch TV (online or otherwise), or ride the subway in New York, you’ve likely seen the recent Power Ball ads like this one, that implies if you win, you’ll have enough funds to do anything, anytime, anywhere.

I should first say that my relationship to the Lotto is not a familiar one — it’s one of those things that my grandmother participated in once a week for at least the latter part of her adult life, but I never really understood (because she never won). And looking at ads like this, or the Power Ball commercial where a woman reclines on a couch in her spacious living room and uses a remote to control what a live Cindy Lauper plays, makes a person wonder.

So why post about this on a blog that focuses on education and technology? At a time when tension in the country is only mounting around the economy (among other things), it’s not hard to explain to students at any instructional level that there are few circumstances that would ever allow for one car to travel, alone, through one of the busiest arteries in New York City while traffic builds up in the other tunnel — or, that hiring an ultra-famous band for personal use in one’s apartment is highly unlikely under most circumstances, but such logic goes agains the grain of images like these. I’ve obviously not researched this from an empirical standpoint, but as a New Yorker for more than 10 years, I can attest to being delayed on the subway, in traffic, or on foot, by closed streets for a variety of important-people-related reasons, but very few people actually have the funds to stop traffic as suggested by this ad — fewer, even, than the 1%.

So I guess that’s what is most significant to me about this image — that it harnesses, in some clever-yet-completely-false manner, the rhetoric of the Occupy movement (i.e., the 99% vs. the 1%). I’m sure it’s not the first time an ad for the Lotto has lied, but it’s the first time one has made me pause and wonder about how it’s playing off the current, public narrative around money (and by extension, class). Indeed, the very idea of ads is to sell, but where do we draw the line on hope vs. reality in a city where there are schools that don’t have the materials they need for basic instruction?

iPad State of Mind

In a little less than an hour, at 10am ET, Apple plans to make an education-related announcement, and I’m not gonna lie: I’m excited to hear what’s on deck. There’s been speculation on blogs and such about what will be revealed, and in particular, what the role of the iPad will be. I have a lot of thoughts on iPads and e-readers (you can get a better sense for that thinking here if you’re interested) — especially how they fracture (in a good way, I think) how we think about time/space/communication/learning/teaching, etc. I snapped this picture during one of the initial protests of the Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park back in September, and keep thinking about it.

As I shot the photo, I was participating in a protest while watching the same protest on a device as it unfolded. What does that do for a learner, the act of participating-while-observing? What benefits are there to being able to participate in something in real time while also capturing it for, ostensibly, future learning, on a device that doubles as a book (among many other things)? How will note-taking and field trips evolve into non-linear projects that no longer involve notebooks and pencils or being in one place at one time?

Before I start asking more questions, I have to run to a meeting. But I wanted to start this strand of thinking and hopefully pick it up again later. I have a feeling 2012 — and today’s announcement in particular — is going to shape much of what is to come in digital education. It’s unclear as of yet how that innovation will change education in schools that don’t have enough dollars, period, but I’m hopeful that as the excitement builds around possibility that this dilemma is also considered.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

As I get my feet wet with this public-blogging thing (intentionally public, anyway–this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged publicly, but it’s the first time I’ve done so while trying to capture the attention of a specific audience and string a common thread through my posts), there is a growing pile (digital and otherwise) of things to think and write about. I find that I am accumulating post topics at a much higher frequency than I have time to write about them! This forces me to be judicious with words and space (believe it or not), to critically think through how I might thread several disparate concepts together, and to consider how I’ll use various media to convey the heart of my message.  As informal as blogging can be, the project of maintaining a blog for a specific professional purpose becomes a formalized act that follows a distinct process, much like that of writing a research paper or article manuscript. Which brings me to what inspired this post: last night’s CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative talk with Shannon Mattern and Mark Sample.

Shannon’s presentation in particular, “Beyond the Seminar Paper: Setting New Standards for New Forms of Student Work,” gave me things to think about when it comes to my research.  While I (and many other K-12 public school teachers in NYC) have a knee-jerk reaction against the word “standards,” it was refreshing to hear someone discuss evaluation and assessment in the context of why.  It’s not that I haven’t heard other academics speak about assessment in productive, logical ways; it’s just that so much of my time as a 5th grade teacher was spent producing pretty, neatly formatted assessments because I was forced to, not because it made sense.  One year, using an informal system of notes on a post-it was the accepted form of evaluation; another year, the focus was on rubrics; our heads spun with the rapid changes that seemed episodic and disconnected to the goals of our lessons, and in the interim, the whole purpose of evaluating was lost on many of us. While Shannon has developed a series of evaluative tools along with each project she has developed with her students, it was clear from her presentation that her evaluations were not seemingly random rubrics or checklists like the ones I once compulsorily produced–her evaluations have a specific purpose, and are connected to the larger learning goals of her students’ projects.  I appreciated being a part of this conversation at the higher-ed level–particularly the part that took up questions around support for practitioners.  (And I’d like to see more spaces for conversations like this at the K-12 level.)

So what do we do if we want to use a technological tool we don’t know how to use?  What are the resources available to professionally develop your own skills as instructors–at all educational levels?  And how can the growth of our society’s do-it-yourself (DIY) culture support those endeavors?

Shannon’s talk last night touched briefly on what I hear mentioned often in professional talks lately: getting an academic job is no longer a guarantee once you get your PhD.  I feel like I’ve witnessed the development of this phenomenon first-hand over the last decade, and have to wonder at how it has paralleled the development of technology.  At age 26 (eight years ago), with but two years of teaching 5th grade under my belt, I was hired as an adjunct to teach a course called “Assessment and Evaluation” at a local university.  Not only were the students in my course teaching in grades K-12 (I’d only taught elementary school at that point), the course text (which was dictated by the department) was unbelievably dry and disconnected from most of my students’ daily work, and my students were rightfully frustrated by the course content and my teaching of it.  I had not yet developed the wisdom (which would come several years later and is still evolving) to logically develop a purposeful assessment tool that was accessible to my students and made sense for the larger goals of the project or assignment.  At the time, there were few impressive lines on my CV that related to teaching at the Masters level, and other than being an ambitious, personable young woman with lots of energy and a brightly decorated classroom, I didn’t seem qualified.  So why was I hired?  Surely it couldn’t just be because I was cheap at $2,250 per class (or thereabouts), or that I was referred by an advisor through the New York City Teaching Fellows–I still went through an interview! Was something else happening at the time?  Was it the start of what we are witnessing now, with the disappearance of full-time, tenure-track positions? What does it all have to do with the advances of technology?  I realize I’m tangenting, and again, raising threads that I will want to return to, but all of these thoughts were descending upon my brain last night as I sat and listened to Shannon and Mark talk about their work at their respective institutions. (You can read more about my K-12 teaching experience in my previous post if you’re interested.)

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about the boundary between teaching tech and teaching content–for instance, at what point does teaching how to use a blog platform detract from the content-specific point of the activity?  I appreciated that both speakers had already intimated in their respective talks that the boundary is blurry and increasingly so–that as pedagogues, we will often be required to move our technological knowledge along independently, and make use of the advances available to us whether there is a PD session to support it or not.  I admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to debating the identifiers of “digital humanities.”  It seems that technology and teaching are so inextricably linked at this point that you cannot teach without bumping into technology somewhere along the way, and vice versa.

If I had more hours in the day, I would spend time looking at how developments in letter-writing and the postal service, television, telephones, automobiles, radio, and other technologies have impacted policies and practices around teaching and learning–this tension surely existed before computers, right?  I can’t imagine the development of automobiles having had the same impact on classroom learning as computers and the internet, but I’m curious about how the education system catches up to advances that move quickly around it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and other friends and colleagues involved in the project of education.

Digital Dissertations

Since I decided that the focus of my research would be online, I’ve had a growing symbiotic relationship with the internet.  I spend most of my time in front of my computer, having a conversation with someone or Google.  I’m always searching for the answer to a question, and the conversation only ceases when I sleep.  I spent about ten days in Costa Rica a year and a half ago, and kept thinking that bug sounds coming from the jungle were text notifications–like many of us these days, I’m almost always on the grid.

So okay.  I’m not saying anything any of us aren’t experiencing at some level right now.  Even if you still have a cell phone that doesn’t connect to the internet, you’re saturated by discussion, information, and images from the internet all day long.  Everywhere you look, people are mid-conversation.  I saw this ad on the subway in March 2010, and took a quick shot of it on my phone because it struck me as meaningful and timely.  I’m not completely sure what the point of the ad is, and it doesn’t make me want to buy the camera, but I note an implication of unity–that we’re all in this together.  (There is also an assumption about equal access to new technologies.)

So the point is: we can’t deny that the way we communicate is changing, and every day brings more digital correspondences than the day before.  I want to know, given this onward march of technology, is it possible that dissertations will start looking like blogs?  Please??

As I started talking with more of my classmates, colleagues, and professors about my ideas for research involving blogs, it often came up in conversation if I would also be blogging as I gathered data.  I knew I would, but I didn’t know if I’d be making it public.  Well, here I am blogging about my ideas as I immerse myself in the digital world of what teachers have to say, and I’m not hiding.  A conversation with an old friend yields the following suggestion: that my blog becomes my dissertation.  I got to thinking about this idea, and chatted with another friend/colleague earlier this evening about it.  It turns out he’s already set his dissertation up as a blog!  It’s divided into an organized set of dropdown menus and categories for easy navigation, and is an evolving work that will culminate in an online publication of sorts.  Seeing his blueprint made me want to pursue the idea of using what I write in Mediated as part of my dissertation.  After all, I did start it to sort out the thoughts cycling through my head every day about teaching, policy, technology, and so on.  I know that writing these posts will be crucial in the actual writing of my dissertation narrative; however, it can’t be as simple as being the dissertation itself.

But I’m thinking about the concept of digital dissertations in earnest now…

In the meantime, I promised my friend I’d find out if anyone had actually submitted a dissertation digitally.  And I’m not talking about uploading a PDF of the tome you’ll deposit at the library in order to graduate, but rather a dynamic web page that is built more like a moveable non-fiction book than something you read cover-to-cover.  We decided we’d both like to know if any exist.

I didn’t find much in a cursory search on Google and Google Scholar, but I imagine something’s out there.  If you know of anyone who’s presented their dissertation online, please forward a link.

“Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.”

This past Sunday’s New York Times published the first of a series of articles about “the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning”(p. 16) with the title “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.”  I have to say, I appreciate the NYT’s effort at turning the spotlight to education every now and then, thus encouraging the masses to pay attention to K-12 classroom learning; however, they don’t always get all sides of the story.

I’m often looking for articles and media presentations about teaching that take into account teachers’ input, and it should be noted that this article gives a nod (in the section “Teachers vs. Tech” on the last page of the article) to the impact of recent technological developments in education on teachers — particularly the financial constraints of new materials, resources, and training.  So often, discussions of education leave out the part of the narrative that honors that teachers are living, breathing human beings, too, who, despite the efforts of teacher education programs, don’t arrive at the classroom door with a fixed set of skills — especially at a time when skill-level requirements (particularly around computers) are changing and ratcheting up on a daily basis.  Teachers, just like students, need ongoing learning opportunities, too, and their input in this conversation is necessary but often absent.

There are a million threads to take up in response to this article, but I want to focus on just a few:

  • definition of what we’re referring to as “technology”
  • teacher as guide instead of lecturer
  • proof of value of technology in the classroom

Definition of what we’re referring to as “technology.”  So what do we mean by “technology”?  It is implied throughout this article that the “technology” being discussed is computer and internet technology.  But where does technology end and begin?  Wasn’t the invention of the wheel “technology”?  Isn’t using a xerox machine technology?  Do students have to be operating in virtual spaces for it to be considered “technology”? Are there actual, specific requirements for a classroom to be considered “technology-centric?”  How does this distinction help or hurt when it comes to developing best practices in the classroom?

Teacher As Guide Instead of Lecturer.  The article references Kyrene School District in Arizona, which has “invested roughly $33 million” for computers, interactive screens, and other virtual technologies, and states “the digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer.”  This line honestly floored me — each of my teacher education courses, whether I was a student or an instructor, centered around the Piagetian idea of constructivism, in which the teacher is a guide, not a lecturer.  Put simply by Dewey, constructivism means that “experience is education,” and that the act of doing is, in itself, a powerful form of learning.

For me, and the majority of my teaching colleagues, the notion of acting as a “guide” instead of  “lecturer” is not new, and focusing on this as some sort of new method for approaching the classroom via the lens of technology does a disservice to the last century of progressive educators’ work.  While I can only speak for myself, I find it angering to have this concept renewed again and again, as if for the first time, without focusing on what is really happening: a lack of equally accessible resources, a dearth of ongoing, effective training for teachers, and a system of policymaking that could not be further from the actual classroom.

I remember when the new citywide curriculum for K-6 was implemented (roughly 7 school years ago) in New York City, and as a fifth grade teacher I was expected to start teaching with a new curriculum that was unfamiliar to me (Everyday Math).  At that time, the rhetoric was that we needed classrooms to be “child-centered.”  Now we need classrooms to be “technology-centered”?  Will this simple shift in focus actually make a difference?  I am guessing that it won’t.

Proof of Value of Technology in the Classroom.  The article states the claim that “educators would like to see major trials years in length that clearly demonstrate technology’s effect. But such trials are extraordinarily difficult to conduct when classes and schools can be so different, and technology is changing so quickly.”  Sure, yes.  We would all love to see trials of things that “work” in education, period, but one sure-fire thing that a century of education research has helped us conclude is that nothing works for everyone.  I am not advocating the willy-nilly implementation of programs in classrooms (if you’re a public school teacher, you know this happens already.)  As an educational researcher, I unconditionally agree that more research must be conducted; however, one need not conduct a years-long, longitudinal study to make the basic claim that technology (of the computer/internet variety at the very least) is increasingly becoming a necessary pedagogical component.  You can’t get a library at the local library, get an MTA card, or communicate with a cell phone today if you don’t have a basic understanding of technology.

As I said, there is a lot more to say, and I’m having a hard time cutting this post short as a result, but…  I hope this is the start of a really important conversation that every educator can be a part of right now: how can/will the technology revolution transform education?  Will it transform education?  Or, will the same trends continue, in which a new silver bullet is proposed (in this case, “technology”), tons of money is invested, and empirical data shows little or no change?  At what point are we going to stop beating around the bush and figure out that 1) any new device — whether curricular, pedagogical, technological, or any combination of the above in nature — will require additional, sufficient teacher training; 2) clear channels for teacher input/expertise need to be forged; and 3) the internet isn’t going anywhere and kids need to interact with it in their learning environments — and not just in the name of improving American test scores.

Pednology, or Maybe Techagogy

Yesterday’s post marked the start of me trying to work out, in writing, some of the questions I have about pedagogy and technology.  I’ve been spending more time with my computer than any other object in my life for at least the last ten years, and there are (many) things that have developed or changed over time that I’ve often discovered by mistake, and I wonder how other teachers have handled it.  Educators aren’t generally trained in new technologies unless we seek out the training on our own or it’s for some profit-driven company that will benefit when the school buys 500 of whatever’s being offered (at least that’s been my experience).  And yet we are required to stay up-to-date in the name of pedagogy, a requirement that is understandable and at times, impossible.  For example, how are teachers expected to use SmartBoards if they are taught a crash course in an afternoon PD session when they’re already exhausted, have about 8 million other things to do to prepare for tomorrow, there will likely be no follow up, and they don’t have regular access to the SmartBoard itself?

This is one of the things I’m talking about when I mention “the gap between policy and practice” in my work.

But I’m talking about less-technologically-advanced things than SmartBoards, too.  If you haven’t ever had a Facebook account as a teacher, you’re missing a huge understanding of how young people communicate; if you do have an account, you have to be careful about what you post (and gets posted) on your wall.  And what about learning less big-concept things like the fact that you don’t have to type “www” anymore when you enter a URL?  Or what about fair-use and copyright laws?  I admit that the first time I taught an online course (back in 2004!?), I simply scanned in and uploaded portions of texts that I wanted to use.  I had a hunch that that wasn’t exactly what I was supposed to do, but as a part-time instructor at a university that had little means to train a rookie teacher who’d been hired as a teacher educator (a problem in its own right, but one that initiated my career as a teacher educator), I did what I could with the technology available to me at the time.

So what of these changes — both subtle and far-reaching — that are happening at mach speed on a daily basis now? When and how are teachers trained, if they don’t take the initiative on their own?  Some people might argue that everyone, no matter the industry, has to figure out how to use new technologies, but my counterargument to that is that education is different.

On the day I received my acceptance letter to the New York City Teaching Fellows — a little more than ten years ago — one of my best friends said, “teaching is the most important job.”  Granted, he’s a professor now so might be biased, but that statement really impacted me — education is a requirement in this country, and thus something we all universally experience in some form; it is also something our society values a great deal, despite the fact that a degree does not guarantee being able to find a job.  Teachers need to be taught, too, and we’re starting to figure out ways to do that at the post-secondary level, but what about K-12?  Where are the in-depth, across-the-board trainings for teachers that don’t 1) take time away from everything else they have to do, 2) are free of charge, and 3) address, in a zone-of-proximal-development type of way, the pednology, or maybe techagogy, needs of teachers?  Pedagogy and technology are no longer disparate concepts, and K-12 educators who don’t feel completely comfortable with what’s happening need the supports to catch up, too.

Where Physical Ends and Digital Begins

How often do you still download a document, or go to the site of a periodical you used to get in the mail every week, and approach it as a concrete piece of the physical world?  How has the switch from print to digital affected how you engage with what you’re reading/learning?

I grew up convinced I’d been born in the wrong decade.  I always thought I should have come of age in the 60s, been a part of a set of movements that were fought by and for everyday people, had the chance to witness “real” change happening.  And it only recently dawned on me that the span of my lifetime, and that of my peers, is mind-boggling in a totally different but also unique way.  Although the technology revolution is of a different nature than that of the antiwar and civil rights variety, it is also the mark of an amazingly wild and exciting time to be alive.

I often come back to this fact: I typed my college applications on a typewriter.  Sometimes I spend whole days coming back to this idea, wondering if there has in fact ever been a time in history in which so much change has happened so rapidly.  I also wonder how historians will recount this period in time: are we only at the beginning of what is to come? When/how did this wave of change really start? What social, economic, and political forces impacted the rate and speed of digital growth?  How do schools factor into all of this?

But I digress.  Really what inspired this post was downloading my first book on iBooks. I’m a recent iPhone convert, and while a big part of why I’ve avoided getting one is related to my klutz factor, a big part of me has resisted the functionality of apps like iBooks that aim to marry the physical and digital.  If you’ve ever been to my apartment, you’ve probably noticed my monstrous bookshelf.  Even though it holds my most precious possessions, I have a love-hate relationship with the shelf itself.  I kind of can’t stand it anymore — it’s been through seven apartments with me over the last decade — and the more information I take in digitally every day, the more I want to purge my life of physical things (like my books — I can’t even believe I’m saying that out loud!!) for if I keep them, the growing intake of digital information will at some point surely seem redundant.

I can’t see myself getting rid of the well-worn tomes that my favorite high school English teacher assigned senior year, the stacks of heavily annotated political economy and education policy literature, my collections of Chris Van Allsberg books and Jacqueline Susann novels, the beautiful knitwear and fiber art books my grandmother gave me from the 70s, or the touchstone texts that guided me through the first years of teaching reading and writing in an elementary school.  But then I try to imagine what my iBooks library will look like a year from now — surely there will be more than just one volume sitting on my virtual shelves. So what happens to my actual books?  Will I end up purchasing them digitally, too?  Will my book collection become a retro conversation piece in twenty years?  Will my urge to purge anything in the physical world that I maintain a digital copy of grow? And related to my work: how can public elementary schools possibly keep up?

I went to a presentation at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting this year in New Orleans about the national education technology plan.  It was a fascinating symposium that went through a brief history of how the internet has affected students and learning throughout the U.S., and spent a lot of time explaining the plan for the near future.  All sorts of innovative ideas were shared about the impact technology is having (and could potentially have) on education, and the capabilities teachers have at their fingertips.  The catch is: only if there’s funding.  And at this point, the federal education technology plan puts the pressure on the states to back the plan with dollars to make it happen.  Of course we all know what’s happening with state budgets: they’re being slashed, and things like education are taking a huge hit.

So in my eyes, we’re at a real crossroads.  It’s not a clear-cut crossroads or even a fork in the road exactly — while I’m framing my thoughts here in the context of two distinct bodies (physical and digital), I see them as necessarily tangled.  I think a period of time will continue for a while in which most of us will kind of fumble now and then when we try to use an app that replicates something we’re already knowledgeable of tangibly (i.e., a book), but that eventually, the digital world will no longer seem to replicate (or try to imitate) the physical in the same ways.

I have so much more to say about this, but it’s the first week of the semester and I’m completely spent.  More tomorrow.

In Like A Lion

So yesterday marked the official start of my new fellowship, in which I’ll be working with students and faculty via technology.  More on what that means as it unfolds…

In the meantime, we got students set up with their new Macs, and part of that required familiarizing ourselves with Apple’s new operating system, Lion.  My observation so far is that the differences are subtle but powerful.  A number of us spent more than a few minutes talking about how the “natural” setting of the trackpad actually mimics that of the movement of your hand on the screen of a smartphone.  It was uncomfortable at first, but the scrolling pattern feels intuitive now.  Soon, rumor has it, scroll bars are going to disappear, too.

There will be some inevitable adjusting to differences in operating systems, hardware, and platforms, as I travel around between various computers researching, supporting, and facilitating communication and learning via technology.  But whoa.  I feel like I’m starting to speak a new language finally, and it feels good.  That little girl who’d completely dissected every discoverable keystroke of her Commodore 64 back in 1980-something is back and ready to learn more.  People who know me know I’m not the biggest fan of corporations, but I have to say: I thank you, Apple.